The music we call “jazz” arose in late nineteenth century North America—most likely in New Orleans—based on the musical traditions of Africans, newly freed from slavery. Grounded in the music known as the “blues,” which expressed the pain, sufferings, and hopes of Black folk then pulverized by Jim Crow, this new music entered the world via the instruments that had been abandoned by departing military bands after the Civil War. Gerald Horne’s Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music examines the economic, social, and political forces that shaped this music into a phenomenal U.S.—and Black American—contribution to global arts and culture.
Horne assembles a galvanic story depicting what may have been the era’s most virulent economic—and racist—exploitation, as jazz musicians battled organized crime, the Ku Klux Klan, and other variously malignant forces dominating the nightclub scene where jazz became known. Horne pays particular attention to women artists, such as pianist Mary Lou Williams and trombonist Melba Liston, who faced the triple jeopardy of racism, sexism, and class exploitation. He also limns the contributions of musicians with Native American roots who, because of the peculiarities of Jim Crow laws, were defined as African American. He traces the routes of those musicians forced into exile because of Jim Crow: Dexter Gordon in Copenhagen; Art Farmer in Vienna; Randy Weston in Morocco. Gerald Horne writes of the countless lives of artistry and genius—both known, like Armstrong, Ellington, and Coltrane, and unknown. This is the story of a beautiful lotus, growing from the filth of the crassest form of human immiseration.
Gerald Horne is John J. and Rebecca Moores Professor of African American History at the University of Houston. He has published more than three dozen books, including Confronting Black Jacobins and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, both by Monthly Review Press.
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